Measuring the bone pile: death in the hive
Yesterday I pulled the screened bottom board out of my top bar hive and dumped it. What seemed like an incredible number of moldy bees mixed with pollen and comb dropped heavily to the ground. It made a wet thud, like a saturated mop hitting the deck.
Cleaning the unappetizing stew of deadlings off the bottom board is a rite of spring. Although it can be disconcerting to a new beekeeper, it is nothing to be alarmed over. Here’s why:
An average colony going into winter may contain 50,000 bees. An average overwintered colony stirring in spring may contain 20,000 bees. So where are the other 30,000? Well, a goodly number of them are in that pile; others were carted out of the hive by ambitious house bees during the winter months. You saw those on the landing board and in front of the hive in the snow.
If the hive appears healthy and active then the pile of dead bees is just—well—a pile of dead bees. Clean it up, put the hive back together, and forget about it. Everything is going according to plan.